Representing space and place: hunter-gatherer perspectives

Carolyn O'Meara, Niclas Burenhult, Mikael Rothstein, Peter Sercombe

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The anthropological sciences have long been interested in how hunter-gatherers perceive and interact with their spatial environment. The spatially flexible and dynamic modes of subsistence and residence typical of many hunter-gatherer communities have been considered to be key factors in the social organisation and ideological framing of such communities. However, close attention to spatial representation—in the form of categories and distinctions as they surface in everyday communication and behaviour, for example—has so far been largely restricted to certain subfields within the language and cognitive sciences. This inquiry, on the other hand, has not been concerned with the hunter-gatherer category as such, and it has rarely addressed spatial representations in their sociocultural context. The present special issue aims to highlight the potentials of a closer integration of these different research perspectives in advancing our understanding of hunter-gatherer space. The contributions—written by experts on a diverse set of communities—address a range of representational phenomena of core concern to this aim. This introductory paper presents space as a domain of inquiry into meaning, it reviews the literature on spatial representation among hunter-gatherer communities, and it outlines some of the major patterns of hunter-gatherer spatial strategies that emerge from the literature and the present contributions. Pointing to both diversity and commonalities across communities, the data offer new views of promising ways forward in the inquiry into hunter-gatherer relationships with the environment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-309
JournalHunter Gatherer Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2020 May
Event12th International Conference on Hunting and Gathering Societies - Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia
Duration: 2018 Jul 232018 Jul 27
Conference number: 12

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics
  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


  • space
  • language
  • spatial cognition
  • place
  • landscape
  • hunter-gatherers


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